Navigating Safety: Developing a Safety Plan with Teens

Like domestic violence, teen dating violence is controlling behavior. According to DoSomething.org, violent behavior begins between 6th and 12th grade and 72% of young people are already dating by the time they are 13 to 14 years old. At this stage of life when youth are lacking significant experience in the dating world, it is not uncommon for peers to pressure eventual abusers into violent behavior.

Simultaneously, the teenage years stand out as a time where the views that young people have about love are highly romanticized. Young women often hold misguided beliefs that normalize abuse because “everyone is doing it.” A teenage girl may even misinterpret possessive and jealous behaviors or physical abuse as an expression of passion and romance. This isn’t helped by the cultural belief that leads young men to believe that being aggressive is masculine. Behaving otherwise will cause them to lose respect among their peers. Developing a safety plan with teens can help you keep them safe.

Fortunately, there are signs which indicate that a teenager is experiencing dating violence. They may become isolated and begin using alcohol and substances. You might notice visible physical injuries or clues of pregnancy. Personality changes and emotional outbursts are also common indicators to look for.

According to Break the Cycle, safety planning with a teen can help them identify their support systems, connect them to school and community resources, and empower them to take control of their lives back. Teenagers have the right to feel safe and be in relationships free of violence.

Creating a safety plan

The abuse is never the victim’s fault and making the decision to leave an abusive partner can be both difficult and dangerous for people of any age. The abuser may react violently when they realize that their control is falling apart. If you feel that your safety is at risk, developing a safety plan with your teens helps them to get the support they need safely exit the relationship. Here are some recommendations for teen safety planning:

• Talk to a family member, friend or teacher that you trust. Talk to someone trained at National Dating Abuse Hotline (866-331-9474) if you need a place to stay.

• Do not break up in person if you don’t feel safe. If you must, be sure to do so in a public place.

• Decide on a secret, safe location for someone to pick you up. Keep your tank full of gas if you own a vehicle. If using public transportation, learn the route to safety via bus or train.

• Trust your instincts and think for yourself. Avoid allowing anyone to talk you into doing what isn’t right for you.

• If you live with your partner, keep a bag of important items to take with you: cellphone and charger, license/ID, cash & ATM cards, any protective orders you may have, and a clean change of clothes.

• If you are leaving with children, be sure that they have a few essentials as well. Anything they may need should be prepared. Some examples are spare clothes, favorite toy or blankie, birth certificate, health records, diapers, formula and bottles.

You have control over how to prepare for this. Think about action steps to take that are specific to your circumstance and based on your own needs. No one deserves to be abused. This is not your fault.

An online safety planning tool is available at loveisrespect.org

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our support line advocates at 855-287-1777.

What is Stealthing: Learning About Reproductive Coercion

By Jenn Rockefeller

Domestic violence is to physically, emotionally, mentally, financially or sexually harm another in the name of power and control. Intimidation and threats are abound in each of these forms of abuse. Sexual abuse is just one spoke in the wheel that the abuser will use to their advantage in the quest for power and control. Narrower still, is the subtle form of sexual abuse known as stealthing, which is just one more way for the abuser to maintain power and control over the victim.

According to Bedsider, stealthing is a term for the act of removing a condom before or during sexual intercourse without the consent or knowledge of one’s partner.

What it can look like

Stealthing is a more specific form of reproductive coercion. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reproductive coercion (like stealthing) includes “hiding, withholding, or destroying a partner’s oral contraceptives; breaking or poking holes in a condom on purpose or removing a condom during sex in an attempt to promote pregnancy; not withdrawing when that was the agreed upon method of contraception; and removing vaginal rings, contraceptive patches, or intrauterine devices (IUDs).”

In an abusive relationship, stealthing is just one more tactic in the abuser’s arsenal. You and your partner may have agreed to use a condom. But, if you and the abuser are engaged in sexual activity and he throws caution to the wind and removes the condom despite your objections, he is committing an act of stealthing. (In the previous situation, the male was used as the perpetrator, but please note that either a man or woman can stealth.)

Why it’s abuse

Stealthing is abuse. There is no sugar-coating that. Some people might consider it a “sexual trend”; however, it is anything but that. It is not cool or the newest fad. It is abuse because it takes away our right to say no. It changes the agreed upon sexual interaction. Stealthing violates a person’s reproductive rights by subjecting them to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

According to Teen Health Source, stealthing is considered sexual assault and rape because it is done without the other partner’s consent. The site explains that the perpetrator is changing the terms of the previously agreed upon conditions of sexual intercourse. When that happens and the perpetrator removes the condom without the consent of the other person, it now becomes non-consensual sex.

Where you can go for help

If you feel you’ve been a victim of sexual assault like stealthing, there are many places (and organizations) that you can contact for help. Below is a short list:

·         National Sexual Assault Hotline – You can contact 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and be connected to a trained staff member who can provide confidential support and guide you to local places to help you.

·         National Domestic Violence Hotline – Contacting the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 will put you in touch with trained professionals who will be able to guide you. Their website provides a wealth of additional resources.

·         The National Dating Abuse Hotline (Love is Respect) – Phone calls, texting and online chatting are available to those who need to seek help.

·         National Sexual Violence Resource Center – This resource center has a wealth of information to help those in need and can put them in touch with their local rape crisis center.

·         Office on Women’s Health – OWH lists resources by state to provide area-specific help.

If none of the above options are available to you, or you feel you are not safe to make phone calls to a hotline, you can always seek assistance in your local hospital emergency room.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Talking with Teens About Consent

By Jenn Rockefeller

A teenager’s world is ever-changing. They face pressures that adults likely did not at their age. Pressures in both school and their social circles can begin to intensify. When a teen begins to reach physical maturity, their world can become a mixture of confusion, anxiety and further pressure from peers. They may see their friends begin to explore physical relationships. They may not yet understand what it means to consent to such relationships. This is why is it vital for parents to discuss with their teens just what consent is and what it means for them.


In an article BTS posted last year, the link between domestic violence and consent was discussed. Briefly, consent is when someone gives clear permission for something to happen, whether it has to do with any sexual activity or not. Per the article, consent lines can become blurred in different states, although we are moving to a space where we agree that consent should be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific.

What consent is not

The age-old “no means no and yes means yes” should be clear cut. But many times, the lines can become blurred. Just because someone says yes at one point, does not mean the answer will be yes in the future. A person can change their mind at any time before or during a sexual act. Never assume consent; rather, it is best to always ask.

With that said, it is also not consent if you are afraid to say no. You are under no obligation to say yes to someone.

Teens and consent

When your child becomes a teenager, it is of the utmost importance that they understand healthy boundaries and what they want and do not want when it comes to dating.

Talking with your child about consent is vital. It is important to stress that it is your teen’s body and they have the right to establish and maintain boundaries that make them feel comfortable.

Below are some conversation starters and other talking points that might prove to be useful when you sit down and talk with your teen:

·         Do you know what consent is? (Some teens might not actually fully grasp what it is.)

·         Do you know what a boundary is?

·         What do you know about physical intimacy?

·         How do you feel about being intimate with someone?

·         Your body is your body. It is your space. If you don’t want someone to hug, kiss or touch you, you have a right to say no.

Asking open ended questions provides more opportunity to have a back and forth conversation with your teen.


When talking with your teen about consent, it might be helpful to have additional resources handy if they ask you questions. Below are some websites that provide some supplemental information that your teen might find beneficial.

The UK website Disrespect Nobody talks about signs to spot with regards to consent and signs to be on the lookout for when giving it (or not giving it). It is important for teens to know that body language also plays a part in consent.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides excellent insight for parents in how to talk to their teen about consent and healthy relationship boundaries. They stress talking with your teen, not at them. (There is a difference!)

The UK Family Lives website discusses why talking with your teen about consent is important. For example, the site mentions helping teens understand just what consent is and what fears/pressures the teen may be facing.

The site Reach Out is an excellent resource for parents to help their teen understand just what consent means for them. It discusses a teen’s ever-changing world and ways to help your teen learn about what their own boundaries are.

Ongoing discussions

As your teen gets older, it is important for you to keeping engaging with them about consent. Be certain your teen understands that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Teens do not have to do anything that they do not want to do or makes them feel uncomfortable. Keep the lines of communication open with your teenager to ensure they know they can approach you whenever they feel the need to talk.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

“They’re Just Kids:” The Dangers of Minimizing Teen Dating Violence

By Chyna Snell

Abuse in intimate relationships does not discriminate by age. High school students, many of whom are navigating young love for the first time, experience violence at the hands of their romantic partners that we need to take as seriously as the domestic abuse that adults experience. According to DoSomething.org, an alarming 1.5 million adolescents have admitted to being intentionally harmed in the past year by someone they were involved with romantically.

The forms that teen dating can take are varied. Emotional abuse can include verbal insults and threats, yelling and engaging in behaviors to isolate the victim from other people. Stalking also falls under the category of the emotional abuse that teenagers can become victim to. Physical forms of abuse range from scratching, shoving, shaking, kicking and hitting. Increasingly, digital abuse is becoming an unfortunate reality for many adolescents. This can be both emotional and sexual, spanning from persistent texts and phone calls, incessant pressure to send intimate photos, and even utilizing GPS to engage in stalking behavior.

What are the long term effects of abusive teenage relationships?

The experiences that pre-teens and teens have in relationships can stick with them and inform their concepts about what they should expect from relationships. This can lead to a continued pattern of unhealthy relationship formation and repeated abuse from romantic partners in later stages of their lives. When a pattern of abuse is formed in adolescence, the likelihood that violence will be experienced from a future intimate partner increases, as does the intensity and severity of the abuse experienced. Teenagers who experience abuse are more susceptible to higher rates of substance abuse, violent behavior, suicidality and promiscuity, reported DoSomething.org. It doesn’t have to be this way, and the lack of awareness surrounding teen dating violence is something that we can fight against.

How do we prevent it?

Teens are likely to remain in abusive relationships for several reasons. Fear of the abuser can be a huge barrier to reporting dating violence. Teenagers need healthy relationship models. In addition to positive relationship role models, it is crucial that we educate adolescents on what unhealthy relationships look like, as well. Adolescence is a time in which peer influence tends to  be the primary source of information on what intimate relationships should be like, how one should behave in relationship, and what to expect from that relationship.

Failure to take teen dating violence as seriously as domestic violence can have devastating outcomes. This February, we acknowledge Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the hopes of decreasing the rates of abuse among young people in relationships.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

What is Reproductive Coercion?

By Jenn Rockefeller

It is not gender specific. It can happen to men, women and non-binary  victims of domestic violence. It can happen at any time within relationships. It doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to the rich or poor, and to all those with differing racial backgrounds. What is “it?” It’s called reproductive coercion and it can have severe adverse effects on its victims.

What it is

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, reproductive coercion is “behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent.”

More specifically, reproductive coercion is a form of sexual abuse that is not widely talked about because many people are unaware it even exists. People may have heard stories about the nightmarish occurrences when one partner pokes holes in condoms or when one partner commits an act of rape. But what these individuals likely did not know is that there is a name for those acts of intimate partner violence.

What it can look like

Reproductive coercion can take on many forms, such as interfering with contraception use that can end up in pregnancy. Please note that any person can be the instigator. If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might be a victim of reproductive coercion.

  • Has your partner hidden, destroyed or withheld your oral contraception?
  • Has your partner removed the condom during sex?
  • Has your partner poked holes in the condoms in order to result in a pregnancy?
  • Has your partner pressured you into having children?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you do not agree to become pregnant?
  • Has your partner continually hounded you to have sex?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you did not comply with terminating or continuing a pregnancy?


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national study in 2011 determined that one in four callers reported being reproductively coerced. However, a more recent report released in October 2018 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), indicated that one in 10 (40%) survivors reported reproductive coercion by either tampering with contraception or forcing them into becoming pregnant. Of that 40% who reported coercion, 84% became pregnant as a result. Furthermore, if a woman becomes pregnant due to reproductive coercion, it can severely hinder her options for financial independence, as well as educational or work opportunities.

How it’s used for control

Domestic violence is an imbalance of power in a relationship. As such, the primary aggressor will exhibit any kind of behavior to maintain that power and control over their partner. This can include becoming pregnant on purpose to trap the partner into staying in the relationship, or if the relationship did end eventually, the one partner would be in the primary aggressor’s life forever. The abuser can and will use the children as pawns for ongoing abuse aimed at the victim/survivor.

Even if no pregnancy occurs as a result of the reproductive coercion, there are still many ways that abusers can use coercive tactics to their advantage in order to maintain power and control over the victim. Violence and threats of violence are sometimes enough to get a victim to comply. There are already enough ways that abusers can covertly abuse their victims, and reproductive coercion is just another tactic in their arsenal.

As humans, it is our right to decide what is best for our bodies and our reproductive health. When abusers force us to give up that right, we are subjected to yet another form of domestic violence that ends up resulting in great harm to our mental, emotional and/or physical health.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Talking About Healthy Relationships with Your Teen

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

I Timothy 4:12 (NIV)

We were all young once, or maybe some still are. Youth brings laughter, opinions, attitudes, more laughter, some crying and a whole lot of worrying for parents.  Talking about healthy relationships with your teen can help ease your worries in the future.

We raise them to leave us and then they leave us and we are left hoping and wondering if we did the best we could for them. Most parents just want to get it right one more time than they get it wrong.

Talking to your teens about healthy relationships

The basics are easy, right?  It’s the parent’s job to make sure they get the 3R’s and all that. But when do you begin to speak to them about one of society’s greatest ills: domestic violence? For the answers to those questions, it was best to go straight to the source. Following is an interview with two teenage family friends.  Names have been changed for privacy purposes.

Kyle and Jennifer are 16 and 13, respectively.  Kyle will be a junior in high school and Jennifer will start high school in the fall.  They are bright, articulate and funny kids. For the most part, they are members of an intact family with only a recent change in that status. The conversation with them was not as clinical as it was practical, but the answers to some of my questions are surprising.  

Talking about domestic violence

AW:  What is domestic violence?

Kyle:  “Isn’t that when you hit a girl?”

Jennifer: “It’s not just girls that get hit, boys do too.”

AW: “Does anybody at school talk to you about domestic violence?”

Both:  “Probably but those sessions are so boring I don’t listen”

AW:  “Ok, tell me how we can get you to listen in those times”

Kyle: “We don’t need somebody to stand in the front of a room and talk to us from their tall tower. We don’t compute statistics and data. If you want us to listen, talk to us openly and honestly. Tell us stories, show us pictures, give us a reason to sit up in our chairs and listen. A lot of times they just speak “at” us. And for us, it is just another reason to get out of class.”

He went on to say that he prefers if these sessions are not co-ed, indicating that if his girlfriend were present, he would not hear a thing anybody said to him.*

Jennifer:  “I agree, and also make sure to pay attention to the time of day. Sometimes they pull us out of the hardest classes and we are all stressed about that, maybe even just plan a day to address it so we don’t stress about missing school. This seems important enough and they should care enough about practical things like that. It seems they always pick the worst times. Maybe even after or before school, but make it required”

AW: Kyle, you have a girlfriend, talk to me about that relationship, are there ever points of contention?  Contention to the point where you need to release some anger?

Kyle: “I don’t hit girls because my dad taught me not to hit girls, so it does not matter if I need to let off some anger, it’s never ok to take it out on her”

The result

Both of them indicated that they really took their lead on this issue from their parents. This conversation was an opportunity for them to ask a survivor questions and talk about healthy relationships. They asked lots of questions, neither of them able to comprehend the reasoning to harm another human being.  

That led to a conversation with Kyle about his relationship with his girlfriend. Suddenly, it became an educational opportunity for him to realize that controlling behavior often starts at his age. Since the majority of his communication with his girlfriend is on text, the conversation naturally turned to controlling text messages. It was good to give him examples and even show him the disturbing BTSADV video with examples of controlling text messages. He seemed to walk away from it having learned as much as he taught.

What can we do to help?

The conversation with both of them was interesting. They were the ones who jumped to their school as the source of information regarding all social issues. Most people would agree that it is never too early to begin talking about healthy relationships with your teen and about boundaries. As they get older, you can give some of those boundaries a name like domestic violence, rape, bullying or any number of the things they need to process. It is important that they never remember a time when they did not know that harming another human being is wrong. Children who see domestic violence in the home are more likely to end up on one side of the domestic violence equation themselves.

It is time for us to declare war on domestic violence and it is time for us to throw every resource into educating children as we can. They are the only ones that can write the narrative for their generation. Talking about healthy relationships with a teen is the first defense against DV.

We have to help them and not look down on them because they are young. They are watching, listening, and feel pain. They need to know that we are willing to listen and want to help them navigate healthy relationships for themselves.

*Editor’s Note: While single-gender spaces can open the floor to unique conversations, it can be challenging to hold these dialogues when considering transgender youth (young people who don’t identify as either “male” or “female” in the binary) or young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other sexual identities where they may still be in the room with an intimate partner.

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